City of Boom
That night I first met him, it was like waking up from a nightmare—my pupils wide and breath in short drags, sweat making my pubic hair itch.
A cigarette flaunted the plump roost of his bottom lip.
“What’s your name,” he asked, and my tongue swelled in my mouth.
“What’s yours,” I replied, catching a whiff of brimstone as he struck a match.
“Jo,” he pulled hard on his smoke, the red cherry tip illuminating his face. “Jo Calderone. Now you gimme yours.”
“What, like little Jimmy’s stuck in the well?”
“I mean, that’s Timmy...I’m Jimmy.”
“Yeah, well, what do you say, Jimmy?” His eyes were shining baubles of disco mirror light as he showed me his teeth. “Do you fuck, little Jimmy?”
My blood felt like pickle juice in my skin when I nodded.
“Yeah, you do,” he replied.
“You want me,” Jo asked, but not really, like a secret he knew but someone else told him. My dick twitched when I heard his melted ice cream voice, and he put a pick through his hair.
I looked down at my feet, smudged old chucks, a life in waste. The back of my neck burned with embarrassed pleasure as he pushed me up on a wall with his smooth hands, and I felt like I was sinking into the rough brick as he wrapped his legs around my waist, his fingers in my hair, pulling.
“You want me so bad,” he said, and god fucking help me, I did.
I reached into Jo’s stiff leather pants, down between his legs—he was so wet—and I stared up at him with the moon in my eyes.
He never laughed before that, and it was a cat’s tongue through my ears as he shoved back and turned around, the bare skin of his ass bronze under the fluorescent protein of the street lights.
* * *
I made a home in Jo’s bed. Tattered blankets and the furnace of his body every night.
“These god-damn roaches are everywhere,” Jo said, crushing a slender insect under naked foot as he stooped into the open mouth of the refrigerator. Ian, a friend from the crib, a lover once, and now a business partner only, said nothing and drank gin from his yellow plastic cup. No ice.
Jo smudged roach guts across the floor, then folded himself back into the shadows of the bedroom as I leaned in the archway, squinting against the atomic morning light.
Ian, the stark-eyed scarecrow. He propped himself by the window every morning, ate a piece of toast, and studied the dogs that pissed on the grass.
“We used to dance to the radio,” he reminded me, talking fog onto the glass.
“Yeah,” I said, pushing my feet onto the sun-stained spot on the floor.
He offered me a drink from his cup, and I took a long one. The pipes rumbled in the walls and I also leaned myself on the sill, nudging my knee into his.
“We also used to punch little Scottie in the back of the head,” I reminded him. He didn’t answer, but I saw his lip twitch.
Church boys came to our door. Left flyers. Left prayers. I swept them off the front porch and plucked wet jellyfish bags from the walkway.
A rich man came up to the porch, soft around the edges from his beige woolen sweater. He did not walk like church boys, but like a man who carried a briefcase. Ian opened the door after the first knock, and allowed the rich man into our dirty house.
I pushed dead leaves around on the wet concrete with my naked feet, pushed them off into the grass and kept my hands in the pockets of Jo’s robe until the rich man ended the conversation inside with a sharp, “Tonight.”
“Tonight,” Ian echoed.
* * *
A woman stood in the backyard of a three-story monstrosity in the Shores. She wore a velvet, ovoid mask with wide eye-holes, and her body was a drape of thick, long fabric.
“Nice get-up,” Jo said to her, and the eyes behind the mask stared past him, through him, as Ian approached with a fuel can in each hand. “You gonna sacrifice us to some freaky god, or somethin’?” he asked, and when she didn’t answer him, I could see the sneer prop his lip like Elvis.
“C’mon,” Ian deflected, and obedient Jo took a step out of the woman’s personal space. She unfolded her arms and gestured to the hulking shadow of the house.
“Make it happen,” she said. “Don’t fuck this up.”
We started in the attic. Old wardrobes, dusty albums, furniture covered in sheets. Ian got first light, which he did with matches, leaning over a box of baby clothes.
One floor down, bedrooms. Jo rolled around on the California king in the master, reading out loud from one of the magazines on the night table. I stopped in the hallway, glancing into the bathroom, and through the window in the shower, I saw angry red sister flames from distant signal fires, other rooftops smoking into the black sky.
The apocalyptic boom in the floorboards when the roof went up, the oily smell of kerosene as we doused everything on the ground floor—the chaise, refectory table, wicker fruit baskets, framed family photos.
“Top to bottom,” Ian said, a flash of his discolored teeth around an unlit spliff as Jo knelt to spark a flame in the book case tinder.
Ian always did have a fine time surviving in the night. He was made of moon when we burst from the scratchy back door, into the backyard.
The woman in the velvet mask waited for us in a cluster of trees near the detached garage. “This is one of many,” she said, and handed each of us a sack heavy with promise.
Jo drove us home. We barreled through the burning city streets in the rich man’s Trans-Am, screaming with wild joy, smearing soot off our faces with soft wads of cash. Broken glass glittered on the asphalt in our high beams, Demetrius’s kids crouched with matches in overturned dumpsters, shredded ropes of toilet paper making trees look like spectres in the damp wind.
Ashes floated above, suspended in the thick, smoky air, and as urgent voices called through the police scanner, I kissed Jo on the neck.
We hit the curb in front of our house and Jo parked it like that. YBI gathered on the porch next to ours. There was something swaying in their tree, heavy and slack. Ian went to smoke a spliff with them, and Jo hustled me inside.
That blue-haired granny who shared windowspace with us watched as we crashed around in our bedroom. I caught her looking, and she smiled.
“Put it in your mouth,” Jo told me, and thumbed a fold of bills between my teeth as he climbed me. I stumbled and hit the wall, holding him by the ass. The local news flickered on her TV—volunteers scrambling to keep the inferno from jumping into the oil-slick river. But her eyes were still on us.
Jo’s silky wet folds around me as I begged: “Daddy, daddy, daddy.”
“Saint Jimmy,” he said, anointing milky chrism on my forehead.
* * *
Ian hung himself to dry on the washing line. It was a thunder-clap of rope and wood and bone, and then silence. I could feel Jo’s body shoot up from the bed in time with mine. I stared through the dark openness of the bedroom door, my head pulsing with fear-blood.
Jo’s silhouette in the door. The tremor in his body as he saw something I couldn’t. A guttural moan out of his mouth as he clawed at his stomach. I lifted to my feet and moved to him, a hand between Jo’s shoulders as he folded in on himself.
Ian, a dead-eyed scarecrow, fingertips limp and neck snapped sideways.
“I’m with you in Rockford,” his note said, “where I died in the crib anyway.”
It said, “Take my share.”
Jo, griping in jags on the phone to emergency dispatch, the incandescent shine of the hallway light. Ian, staring into the holy void, his gaze flat. He always did have bells on his back.
Our neighborhood emptied out when red lights splashed over brick. The ambulance crept through on damp tires, no sirens.
But the rich man never came. The money never came.
Bonnie Bee is a benevolent ruler over a 7×12 kingdom in Brooklyn, in which there is a small colony of centipedes and spiders. She is an abstract, visceral, intimate writer who is happy looking into the abyss, and content to live outside expectations. Her work has been featured in such publications as Glyph Literary Magazine, BoldType Magazine, and on her site: www.bonwrites.com.